MD 11 Preview: Old rivals face off in battle to rise above mid-table mediocrity

It’s 10th Vs 11th in this weekend’s big Thai League (T1) match as Buriram United host Muang Thong United.

The prestige remains despite the fact that this no longer seems to be a battle between two sides competing for the title, but a clash between two fading powers trying to recover from difficult starts to the 2020 campaign.

It’s champions versus challengers as the top two meet up north, with Chiangrai United hoping to close the gap on BG Pathum United. And Bangkok United take on Port FC in another heavyweight fixture.

Here is a look at some of the biggest matches on T1 Matchday 11.

Mario hopes to finally taste victory over Buriram

Despite his successful stints as a player with Muang Thong and Bangkok United, one thing that Mario Gjurovski does not have on his CV is a victory over Buriram United.

He played against them many times and scored a number of excellent goals, but somehow managed never to end up on the winning team in six years.

Having drawn with them six times in T1 and suffered two defeats, it was just months after Gjurovski left the Kirins that Muang Thong finally earned their first ever win over Buriram. His Bangkok United team suffered a similar mental block when up against the most successful side of the 2010s.

Two weeks ago, it was unimaginable that Gjurovski would be leading Muang Thong into battle against Alexandre Gama’s Buriram, but here we are. Gama was one of the Buriram head coaches whose teams frustrated Gjurovski the player.

Now, having just swapped Muang Thong for a return to Buriram, Gama has the opportunity to get one over Gjurovski the head coach.

But the teams come into the fixture in very different frames of mind. Buriram have taken just one point from the last three matches, with an added-time penalty denying them victory at lowly Trat last week.

Meanwhile, a fired-up Muang Thong side were clearly inspired by their new boss as they won 3-1 at Police Tero to earn their fourth victory of the year and edge two points ahead of Buriram.

Both teams saw their foreign strikers finally get their first goals as Marko Scepovic and Willian Popp bagged braces last weekend, but Popp would have ended the weekend much the happier.

Neither club considers itself a lower mid-table team, and both will want to move into the top half of the table and beyond.

Gjurovski raised the temperature last weekend when he suggested that it would be unthinkable for him to move from Muang Thong to Buriram, as Gama just has.

It is all set up for an intriguing battle between two clubs with new head coaches who would love a victory in this fixture to give them the lift they need to try and surge up the table.

Chiangrai next in line for leaders BG

BG Pathum United brushed aside Sukhothai last weekend in what was expected to be another tough test of their title credentials. The 3-2 scoreline did not reflect their superiority and they now travel back north to face the in-form champions.

Chiangrai United have won five out of six since September, conceding just once on that run. The Beetles’ early season woes look firmly in the past as they look like making a strong attempt to defend their title.

BG have already defeated the clubs currently placed fourth to sixth, while also beating the big names of Muang Thong and Buriram. This is a team that does not shirk from a challenge, so Chiangrai will have to be at their best to avoid becoming their latest victims.

T1’s top scorer Bill – fresh from signing a new contract – comes up against the team with the meanest defence in a match that may be high on tension but low on goals. A BG win would take them nine points ahead of the Beetles, while the champions have the opportunity to close within three points of top spot – a classic six-pointer.

ACL bids on the line for Bangkok United and Port

Bangkok United are running out of time in their bid to secure AFC Champions League qualification (ACL). At the season’s mid-point, T1’s top 2 qualify for the 2021 group stage, while the third and fourth place teams go into the qualifying rounds.

The Bangkok Angels may have blown it by following up a perfect start to the season with a dreadful run of form. They took a maximum 15 points from the first five matches, but took just one point from the next five.

Last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Nakhon Ratchasima at least stopped a losing streak but it again exposed the team’s lack of cutting edge. They badly need a big win and Saturday’s clash against Port FC may be the perfect opportunity.

A victory would take them level on points with Port, albeit with a game more played. Other ACL challengers Ratchaburi and Sukhothai face tricky away fixtures, and Chiangrai have a date with the league leaders. Three points for Bangkok United could really put them back in with a strong chance of ACL qualification.

However, Port are in winning form, though their three straight wins have come against the bottom three. Heberty Fernandes will miss out for the visitors through injury, but they have plenty of depth in attack to compensate.

Port have been awarded five penalties in their last two matches and given that Bangkok United lost two points last week due to a debatable penalty, the home side would be well advised to take care in and around their penalty area.

Ibson takes aim at former club

Sukhothai’s Ibson Melo has had no trouble adapting to life at his new club, having joined them from Samut Prakan City. The Brazilian was a big reason behind Samut Prakan’s impressive debut season in T1, but he will now be determined to keep his side in contention for an ACL berth when he revisits his former club.

Ibson’s partnership with John Baggio has given the Firebats 13 goals so far as they have found an added attacking edge that has seen them surprise many, with the club used to lurking in mid-table and lower. 

Time will tell if Surapong Kongthep’s side can sustain their form over more than 10 matches, and last week’s home defeat to BG was a sign that they may not be ready for a place in the Top 5 or 6.

However qualification for an ACL spot remains very much a realistic aim as they sit just two points off fourth spot. Victories in matches like this will be essential, but Samut Prakan will be determined to keep Ibson and Baggo at bay and keep themselves out of relegation danger as they sit just three points above the bottom three.

Paul Murphy

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